The Mischievous Case of the Misshapen Blueberry Pancake [How to Write a Truthful, Effective Headline]

Imagine you’re at a restaurant, out for breakfast with a friend. Though you’d love a nice country omelet, the chocolate chip pancakes pictured on the top of the menu catch your eye. You don’t originally plan on making the decision to order them, but because they’re so appealing, you do it anyway.

You know what a pancake should look like; round, hopefully nice and fluffy. If the waitress sets down a plate of square pancakes in front of you, would you be a little curious? Of course. You’re also hungry, though, and the shape of your chocolate chip pancake really doesn’t make a difference at this point.

Until you take the first bite, and realize it’s not a plate full of chocolate chip pancakes at all. They’re blueberry.

Journalists sometimes agonize over their headlines. Before a reader even gets to the lead of a piece, the headline is the first thing that pops out at them. It has to not only draw your attention, but also do it so abruptly that you can’t help but stop whatever you’re doing and start reading.

Sometimes, though, you don’t get what the title led you to anticipate.

Have you ever read an article based on its headline that wasn’t what you were expecting—and not in a good way?

Here’s how to write a headline that grabs a reader’s attention, and stays true to what’s ahead while doing it.

Know Your Audience

Different audiences click on articles for different reasons. Some people expect to be misled when a headline tells them what they’re looking into. Some want it straight and to the point, just like most diners want to know they’re getting a square blueberry pancake before it gets to the table.

For example, if you’re writing to an audience of experts, you might want to assume they already know most of what you’re about to tell them. In this case, you would want to choose wording that implies you’re going to present findings that further prove what they know is fact, rather than fiction.

However, if your audience doesn’t include experts on a topic, presenting new information might be exactly what you need your title to do.

Ask a Question

This is probably the most effective way to produce a title that gets readers clicking without being misleading. You want to start potential readers off with presenting a question they didn’t even know they had. This discovery will make them much more liley to want to answer it for themselves—by clicking on the piece to find out more.

Asking, “Is There a Better Way to Write Your Next Headline?” was the first draft of this article’s title. It does the job—it tells you exactly what the article will be about and leaves you curious enough to click. However, the title needed a little something more. The reason why comes in our final point. 

Maintain the Mystery Without Withholding Information

Persuasion is the core purpose of marketing, which is exactly what you’re trying to do when coming up with a headline that will get people to click on your article. Some marketers (or writers of headlines) think it’s an affective strategy to twist the truth around in those big bolded words to get more clicks. It can be—but not always.

The title of this article is mysterious, but it doesn’t keep any valuable information from you that will tell you what the piece is about. Until you actually get into the depths of the article, you might actually think it’s about a blueberry pancake. If you like the analogy, then it technically is about a blueberry pancake. See? We didn’t lie. And you still clicked on the article, didn’t you?

Whether you’re writing about pancakes or something a tad more earth-shattering, choose a title that draws readers to your work without leaving them feeling let down or mistreated. Like a major plot twist, leave the best piece of the puzzle hidden until the time is right—but don’t feed your readers the expectation of a chocolate chip and force them to eat a blueberry.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

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